The first building on Long Island constructed specifically as a Sikh temple is about to start rising in Plainview, as the congregation prepares to demolish the building that has served as its place of worship since the late 1980s.
Leaders of the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center on Old Country Road expect the demolition to start this month, and the new temple to be completed on the same site by next summer at the latest.
"We are very happy, very excited," said Inderjeet Singh, president of the temple. One congregant, Vikas Singh, 47, of Syosset, said, "We've been dreaming for many years for us to see a new building there, a place of worship."
There are three Sikh temples on Long Island, though all operate out of buildings that were initially constructed for other uses. The one in Plainview was a Christian church for decades, while another in Hicksville was a bank. The third, in Glen Cove, was a pacemaker factory.
Community growing on LI
The number of Sikh temples on Long Island has been growing as an increasing number of Sikhs migrate from Queens mainly to Nassau County, said Mohinder Singh Taneja, a local Sikh leader. Long Island is now home to about 10,000 Sikhs, most of them immigrants from India, he said.
Leaders of the temple in Plainview, which is the oldest of the three and opened in 1987, said their congregation is outgrowing the building and needs more space.
The new building will more than double the number of people who can pray, to about 400, and more than double the floor space, to about 14,000 square feet. The three-level building will cost at least $3 million, all raised by members of the congregation, Inderjeet Singh said.
Part of the plan also calls for demolishing a house that is on the property to make room for more parking.
During the transition, the temple's holy book will be placed in a nearby house that the congregation also owns and where members can stop by to pay their respects, said Sonia Bawa, a leader of the temple. But the major weekly prayer services, held on Friday nights and Sundays, will be put on hold.
In the meantime, the faithful can visit the temples in Hicksville and Glen Cove, she said.
The Plainview temple, which faces a busy commercial thoroughfare but has a residential neighborhood behind it, was closed temporarily by Oyster Bay Town officials in 2011 when investigators found code violations. That followed complaints by neighbors about noise during outdoor religious festivals, overcrowded on-street parking and garbage. Temple leaders said at the time they were unaware of the code violations and worked to resolve them.
Inderjeet Singh said last week the new temple and expanded parking areas will alleviate many of the issues. Town of Oyster Bay officials said temple leaders have received all the proper permits to construct the new building.
Sikhism is the world's fifth-largest organized religion and is characterized by the turbans worn by men. A monotheistic religion, it preaches equality among all people including women, hard work, charity and sharing, Bawa said. It has prohibited tobacco use since its start in the 1400s. "Ours is a very modern religion," she said.
Many of the faithful often stop by the Plainview temple during the day or evening to pay respects to and consult the Sikh holy book "Guru Granth Sahib" and receive an offering of blessed sweet food called "prashad."
Last week, Harvindez Bhatia, 59, of Hicksville stopped by immediately after she left the hospital after a knee replacement to give thanks for a successful surgery.
"That's my belief, that's my everything," she said of her religion and temple.
Vikas Singh said he was married in the temple, and that after his two sons were born and released from the hospital he brought them immediately to the temple before they went home.
Many congregants have a bittersweet feeling as the current temple gives way to a new one. "There's definitely a lot of attachment" to the current temple, Taneja said. "It's not just bricks and mortar for us."
The temple "is close to our hearts. It's part of us," Bawa said. But "we all see it [the new temple] as a positive thing. Our community is growing."